Judge: NOAA can’t regulate fish farming under law

Alex Whitebrook/ October 3, 2018/ News/ 0 comments

A federal judge in New Orleans has thrown out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s rules for fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico, saying the agency lacked authority to make them.

Tuesday’s ruling halts a plan that would have allowed, “for the first time, industrial aquaculture offshore in U.S. federal waters,” according to the Center for Food Safety , which sued NOAA on behalf of what U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo described as “a bevy of special interest groups representing both food safety advocates and Gulf fishermen.”

The government considers fish farming, including that on the open sea, to be “vital for supporting our nation’s seafood production, year-round jobs, rebuilding protected species and habitats, and enhancing coastal resilience.” Opponents say huge numbers of fish confined in nets out in the ocean could hurt ocean health and native fish stocks, and the farms would drive down prices and devastate commercial fishing communities.

“It’s a landmark decision,” George Kimbrell, lead counsel for the Center for Food Safety, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

“NOAA wanted to do this sort of industrial permitting not just in the Gulf of Mexico but in the Pacific and along the Atlantic coast,” he said.

The agency was working on rules for waters around Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

NOAA is considering whether to appeal the ruling handed down Tuesday, it said in an emailed statement.

The decision doesn’t forbid aquaculture, the statement emailed by spokeswoman Jennie Lyons noted. “NOAA remains committed to expanding the social, environmental, and economic benefits of sustainable marine aquaculture in the U.S.” it said.

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